Elon Musk has hinted more than once that a Tesla truck could be in the works down the road. While Tesla may be focused on building electric luxury sedans and crossovers, it’s most disruptive move could be a capable electric pickup aimed at small businesses. So what would a Tesla truck need to have to upend the truck industry?
As Toyota and Nissan have learned, building a truck to American standards isn’t easy. Nor is tackling the embedded loyalty of the Big Three’s truck buyers, who buy the same vehicles time and again…because that’s what they know. To take on vehicles like the Ford F-150 and Chevy SIlverado isn’t impossible, but it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way. Instead of going after the big players though, Tesla should aim for the all-but-abandoned compact truck market.
Save for the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and upcoming Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, the compact truck market has been all but abandoned, which leaves the door wide open for a new player, even one that looks like this.
Tesla could be that player, but there’s a few things they have to do to make it happen, a minimum range of 200 miles per charge being chief among them. Many local companies don’t drive even half that far on a daily basis, and the added bonus of “refueling” at the workplace means no more time-consuming gas station stops. Superchargers could zap it back to full power on a lunch break, and larger battery pack options could extended the driving range to 300 miles or more relatively easily.
Perhaps even more important though would be the ability to serve as an on-site power station, replacing costly (and loud) generators, at least in a limited capacity. The VIA plug-in hybrid pickups and vans boasts this same capability, able to provide a full day’s worth of juice from it’s on-board battery. Unfortunately, the VIA costs a staggering amount that’s difficult to justify, which brings me to my third point.
Cost is king. If a Tesla truck is going to happen, it will be years after the debut of the down-market BMW 3-series Tesla competitor that won’t be called the Model E. Many businesses and fleet managers are cost sensitive, and fuzzy math won’t fly in the face of decent accountants. An electric Tesla truck would need to start in the same price range as the not-Model E to even be considered, and since we’re speculating at least a decade into the future, the exact number could change with inflation. Long story short though, it has to make more financial sense than VIA’s plug-in pickup.
That means it needs to be reliably basic, with cloth seats, a smaller, simpler touchscreen center console (or maybe even manual controls!) and fewer standard features, but more options.
The potential for a battery-powered pickup is huge, and could help redefine a market that has seen trucks grow in size and cost, forcing automakers like Ford to turn to aluminum to trim their growing beltlines. A compact Tesla pickup should focus on the “compact” aspect, with a lower-to-the-ground ride to make for easier loading and unloading and requiring less “step-up” to enter the cab. An optional air suspension could make a Tesla truck even lower, and help improve highway aerodynamics as well.
That’s all just the tip of the iceberg really though, as Tesla has already shown how deeply integrated the company is with its vehicles. Making some of that info available to fleet managers could help them further refine the financial efficiency of their fleets, as well as keep an eye on errant employees. The future isn’t all sunshine and rainbows after all, and taking a 20-minute “gas break” could become a thing of the past as nosy managers ask why the truck has been idle this long.
To summarize, a Tesla truck should be:
- Capable of driving 200-miles per charge
- Focus on reliability and affordability
- Able to power a worksite for an extended period
- Low to the ground
I’m still just scratching the surface here too, as electric vehicle design applied to pickups could revolutionize the market. There’s just so much more space in a properly-designed electric vehicle, space that could store or haul any number of things in an open-bed configuration. Still, I think I’ve hit all the major points that would have me looking to buy a Tesla truck.
The U.S. market is in desperate need of a smaller and more efficient pickup, and domestic automakers seem content to ignore customers who don’t want or need a full-size truck. Even dedicated electric vehicle makers like Smith Electric would rather build electric vans than pickups, assuming the market just isn’t there.
It may be up to Tesla to once again prove the major automakers wrong.